East Lansing - Already dealing with a number of injuries, an already shorthanded Michigan State team welcomed in Purdue to Spartan Stadium on Saturday afternoon but the Spartans would be without starting quarterback Brian Lewerke and center Matt Allen as they looked to get back on track after last week’s loss to Michigan.
Behind a stellar defensive effort and an efficient performance from backup quarterback Rocky Lombardi, making his first career start as a redshirt freshman, Michigan State would hold off a red-hot Purdue team, fresh off an upset win over Ohio State, for a 23-13 win.
With the game tied at 6-6 late in the first half after the two teams exchanged field goals, Michigan State (5-3 overall; 3-2 Big Ten) would take a 13-6 lead into halftime as Lombardi easily guided the offense into scoring range in the final minutes of the second quarter. Lombardi would cap off a nine play, 87-yard drive that lasted just 1:26 with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Darrell Stewart Jr. with 56 seconds left before halftime.
The Spartan offense would again drive deep into Purdue territory on the opening drive in the second half, but the Boilermakers would keep it a one-score game as Lorenzo Neal would block a Matt Coghlin attempt from 37 yards away. The try from Coghlin was his first miss of the 2018 season.
After Purdue (4-4 overall; 3-2 Big Ten) inexplicably recovered the missed field goal attempt at its 1-yard line, rather than letting the ball roll dead and take over at the point of the missed try, the Spartan defense forced a quick 3-and-out, giving the offense a short field to work with, starting inside Boilermaker territory.
Lombardi would again move the Michigan State offense inside the Purdue 20-yard line, setting up for Coghlin’s third field goal of the game, this time from 34-yards away to extend the Michigan State lead to 16-6 with 3:06 left in the third quarter.
Making his first career start as a redshirt freshman on Saturday afternoon, Lombardi was very effective with both his arm and his legs as he completed 26 of his 46 pass attempts for 318 yards and two touchdowns, while also rushing for 26 yards. Lombardi’s 26 completions were spread around to nine different receivers on the afternoon.
Through six games this season there was plenty left to be desired regarding the involvement of the tight ends in the passing game, but Lombardi leaned on the tight ends through the air at times on Saturday, completing five passes, including four to Matt Dotson for 48 yards. As a position group, the Michigan State tight ends recorded just nine receptions in six games with Lewerke starting under center.
Coming into Saturday’s game, Purdue led by star freshman receiver Rondale Moore, ranked No. 10 in the country in total offense, averaging over 500 yards per game, and No. 6 in the nation in passing offense at 337 yards per game, but the Boilermakers were held in check for much of Saturday’s game.
But the Boilermakers would finally break through late in the third quarter as Purdue junior receiver Terry Wright finished off a 74-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to cut the Michigan State lead to 16-13.
The Boilermakers would once again move inside Michigan State territory with over 10 minutes left to play in the fourth quarter, but the Spartan defense would once again come up with another big-time stand. Purdue quarterback David Blough threw over the middle to tight end Brycen Hopkins, but the ball was jarred loose by a devastating hit by Tyriq Thompson, who caught the ball before it hit the ground, ending another once promising Purdue drive.
One week after the Boilermakers put up 539 yards of total offense and 49 points (42 on offense) on then No. 2 ranked Ohio State, the Michigan State defense bottled up the explosive Purdue offense, allowing 339 yards of total offense (62 yards rushing) and 13 points.
With a chance to tie the game with under four minutes left to play, Purdue used a 39-yard pass from Blough to Isaac Zico to help set up for a 39-yard field goal, but the Spartans again turned the Boilermakers away empty handed as Mike Panasiuk came got his hand on the field goal attempt, preserving the 16-13 lead.
With Michigan State looking to run out the clock on the ensuing drive, freshman Jalen Nailor, moving in motion to the right, took a touch pass from Lombardi and reversed course, going back across the field for a 48-yard score to all but seal the win for the Spartans.
Michigan State will look to clinch a sixth win on the season to become bowl eligible next week when the Spartans hit the road to take on Maryland next Saturday at noon.
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